Legal Aid Challenge Success, Assisted Suicide and the Future of UK Human Rights – the Human Rights Roundup

28 September 2014 by

Grayling HRRWelcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular party gathering of human rights news and views. The full list of links can be found here. You can find previous roundups here. Links compiled by Adam Wagner, post by Celia Rooney.

This week, the Conservative Party will unveil its plans for human rights reform in the UK. In other news, Chris Grayling’s decision to drastically reduce the number of legal aid contacts granted is successfully challenged, while a prosecution for assisted suicide keeps the assisted dying debate alive.

Tories Unveil Plans for Human Rights Reform

The Conservatives are to unveil plans to reform human rights in the UK that would apparently be aimed at preventing the European Court of Human Rights “overruling” decisions of the British courts. After an interview with Chris Grayling, the Telegraph reports that the proposals would include scrapping the Human Rights Act 1998 – in light of controversial disputes between the top UK courts and Strasbourg judges over issues such as prisoner voting.

Speaking to the Guardian, the former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC, had warned that such proposals would likely be unveiled at the Tory party conference. He warned that the plans were ‘incoherent’ and ‘anarchic’, and that the UK could find itself in breach of its international obligations. Grieve was replaced as Attorney General earlier this year with many commentators suggesting that he was removed because of his on going commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights

The Labour Party, however, appears to have a different vision of what human rights should look like in the UK. Speaking at an event at the party conference, Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan MP, has said that Labour wishes to extend, rather than restrict, human rights legislation and would fight Tory plans to get rid of the Human Rights Act. Members of the audience, however, reminded the former lawyer of some of his own party’s previous failings in relation to human rights. The Law Society Gazette reports here.

Successful Challenge to the Reduction in Legal Aid Contracts

The High Court has held that the decision of the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, to reduce the number of solicitors firms who will given contracts to act as duty solicitors for the purposes of legal aid from 1600 to 525 was unlawful. Mr Justice Burnett found that the decision was ‘so unfair as to result in illegality’ in light of flaws in consultation process conducted by the Ministry of Justice.

The restructuring decision was made on the basis of two reports that the Ministry of Justice failed to disclose during the period of consultation, and which later proved to be contentious and subject to considerable doubt. As such, the court found that it was unfair not to allow those engaged in the consultation process to comment on the documents in question.

Interestingly, advice from a senior lawyer in the department, Dr. Gibby, indicated that the decision would have been taken in the same way, regardless of whether or not the responses of the consultees would have differed had the documents be disclosed. Although Grayling did not endorse the opinion of his legal advisor when it was later challenged, the Nothing But the Sun blog highlights that this is does little to reassure the public that decisions on matters of such importance are being made in this way. Oliver Carter, writing for Legal Voice, has considered the reasoning of the court in more depth here.

Assisted Suicide Prosecution

The Crown Prosecution Service has announced that it intends to prosecute an individual for assisted suicide under section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961. Milly Caller has been charged by the CPS for allegedly buying the equipment required and used by another woman to end her life.

Such prosecutions are relatively rare, however, a spokesperson for the CPS indicated that it is their belief that there is sufficient evidence to justify prosecution. Frank Cranmer, writing for the Law and Religion UK blog, notes that, although it would be contrary to convention to refer explicitly to the case, the prosecution may be in the minds of the House of Lords Committee when it considers the Assisted Dying Bill later this year.

In Other News 

  • The UK Human Rights Blog’s very own Adam Wagner recently spoke at a conference entitled ‘Human Rights in the UK Media: Representation and Reality’ at the University of Liverpool. His talk, The Monstering of Human Rights, is here. Click here for Professor David Mead’s slides from his keynote address.
  • A big congratulations to the team at the European Courts blog, which reports case law from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), for their nomination for the Crystal Scales of Justice Prize 2014.
  • A commission on sex in prison, set up by the Howard League for Penal Reform, has published statistics that it suggests indicate the need for urgent investigation into sexual abuse amongst prisoners. The Guardian reports on the matter here.

In the Courts

The Court of Appeal has ruled that a terrorism trial must be held partly in secret. The decision follows a previous challenge in the same case, which successfully overturned an attempt by the CPS to hold the entirety of the trial in secret and forced the prosecution to reveal the identities of previously anonymous defendants.

ECtHR Grand Chamber rules UK didn’t violate rights of man detained in Iraq in 2003 & later found dead

Case Commentaries

In this case, which concerned the rights of trafficked migrants, the Supreme Court overruled a controversial decision of the Court of Appeal. The latter had held that the doctrine of illegality barred a race discrimination claim that had been brought by a migrant who had been trafficked to the UK.

Professor Alan Boggs has commented on the decision for the Oxford Human Rights Hub. As well as examining the reasoning of the Supreme Court in depth, he notes that the case should be seen as an example of the common law working well to protect human rights. While it would be easy to criticise the decision, on the basis that it appears to protect the rights of trafficked migrants at the expense of other vulnerable persons in that group, Professor Boggs reiterates that the value of the judgment. In particular, he notes that there are seeds in the decision – such as the suggestion that public policy may actually prevent human rights being defeated on the basis of illegality – which may come to fruition in the future in the hands of capable lawyers.

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